Capitalism is under attack around the world as Greek socialists complain about their hard- hearted EU creditors, American liberals such as Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren push the Democratic Party to the left, and Pope Francis compares the excesses of global capitalism to the “dung of the devil.”
One of my favorite economic commentators is Arthur Brooks, President of the American Enterprise Institute. One of his books is “The Road to Freedom: How to Win the Fight for Free Enterprise,” which examines the most important economic issues facing the United States from a moral point of view. For example:
- Getting the U.S. Economy Growing Again. Weak economic growth means the end of opportunity in America. Furthermore, weak growth disproportionately hurts those who most need new economic opportunities: the poor. One strategy says that the key to restarting economic growth is the state: more stimulus, more taxes, more borrowing. A second strategy says the source of economic growth is free enterprise: tax reform, less government regulation, policies that make it easier for entrepreneurs to succeed, and a smarter immigration policy.
- Putting America Back to Work. Jobs are not just a source of money for Americans; they are a ticket to earned success. High unemployment is unfair because it robs people of their potential fulfillment. It is especially harmful to the poor and the young. The key to job creation is to get the economy growing faster.
- Getting the United States Out of Debt. Unless the U.S. reduces deficits, it will have just three choices: steal from future generations, inflate the currency to lower the value of the debt or refuse to pay those to whom it owes the money. All of these options are immoral because they are unfair: they harm others who have done no harm to America. Three points here: 1) we have out-of-control entitlement spending, 2) debt crises are more successfully dealt with through spending reductions than with tax increases and 3) there are no quick fixes.
Considering basic economic and fiscal issues from a moral perspective adds an important new dimension to the discussion. We might disagree on the details of how to proceed but it is imperative to take effective action of some kind!
In following the pope’s actions over the past several months, I have concluded that he truly does represent the best interests of the poor and underprivileged as well as the earth. His actions are based on that moral premise, what is the basic moral premise for the capitalist? Is it not to make a profit? And, who should decide the range of the profit made? And what options does the consumer have in reference to acquiring the basic essentials?
Pope Francis is a wonderful person and the best Pope in many years. His intention to help the poor is admirable. But hundreds of millions of people have been lifted out of poverty by the capitalist system. The moral premise for free enterprise is that it is the best economic system yet devised by humans. It works. It provides the greatest good for the greatest number. This is because it is suited to human nature. We are descended from lower forms of primates with a strong instinct for self preservation. Any workable economic system has to take our evolutionary development into account.